A free white paper for employers and HR managers:

Soul and Work: Bridging the Gap

By Stephen C. Schoonover M.D.
and Nicholas W. Weiler

Executive Summary

In a recent cover story, Fortune magazine reports a "growing quest for spiritual renewal in the workplace" and describes "a counter culture bubbling up all over corporate America that wants to bridge the traditional divide between spirituality and work." The article describes a group of middle aged business men meeting to explore how to spend more time "working from their souls" and quotes a Harvard Business School research fellow who follows the topic and agrees; "spirituality in the workplace is exploding."

A new urgency
The new, more introspective trend may in part be a natural reaction to the booming, possessions-oriented 90's. Fortune quotes one successful executive as saying, "You get to the top of the ladder and find that maybe it's leaning against the wrong building." Now, with the added shocks of September 11 and additional rounds of downsizing, the need to integrate what I do at work with a larger purpose that has personal meaning has taken on a new urgency, even among the twenties and thirties crowd who have never known anything but good times.

A practical solution
How should we as HR professionals respond? Is there a practical and acceptable way HR organizations can help people "bridge the divide between spirituality and work"? And should we even be trying to help people work "from their souls"?

We believe the answer to these questions is "Yes". Why? Because the need to address this "exploding" issue may be impossible, or impractical to ignore. And because there are some there are some very concrete ways to cope with these challenges. We've been developing techniques to help people bring their souls to work for over twenty years - and we've been implementing these programs in the toughest corporate environments. Invariably, the firms have benefited at the bottom line. These proven techniques have been used to help people who have been downsized as well as for building increased performance and job satisfaction among the rest of the workforce.

Quiet revolutions
Through our work, we've been able to tap into and enable the higher aspirations of employees in Fortune 500 companies without setting off alarms. At GE's no-nonsense corporate headquarters we introduced inner-needs focused career and performance development programs that were so successful GE exported them to its businesses worldwide.

Part of this practical approach has included the development of models articulating what competencies distinguish successful people with tools for developing them. Our research competency-based tool kits have been applied successfully across a full range of large Fortune 500 companies and small organizations, for profit and non-profit.

From the beginning, we believed that it's a myth that there has to be an irreparable split between spirituality and productivity at work. We have always found that the myth disappeared, or never came up, if we used a language that addressed both dimensions - and if the tools and techniques we proposed clearly enhanced both. It also helped that we based our action proposals not on theory, but on practical lessons from the trenches. Our research team has interviewed over 5000 people in large and small organizations worldwide.

Your Soul at Work
We think people should work with their spiritual advisors to define "soul" in their own specific terms. Instead, we focus on a specialized definition that most people, no matter what their unique spiritual beliefs, can apply practically to their work lives.

For career purposes your soul is the inner you -the center of your being. It's that part of you that knows your deepest needs and aspirations and that's the source of your energy. If you leave your soul at home and have no time for it later, your job won't be very fulfilling.

We've discovered most people's souls want four things at work. They want to:

  • love their jobs and find jobs they love
  • succeed in their work
  • navigate successfully through predictable life stage transitions
  • tie their work to a higher life purpose that has personal meaning for them.

We've learned that, to be effective, we have to address all four in our career and life planning process. To do this at a practical level we've developed a "taking charge" process that leads people through an integrated roadmap of discovery and decision.
This includes providing tools that help them find jobs they love; teaching them what non-technical work behaviors research shows are critical to success in most career specialties; helping them update their plans through successive life stage transitions and supporting their need to put it all in the context of a higher life purpose.

"Soul at work" need not be an oxymoron. Companies that foster employees' personal and spiritual growth find it makes them tremendously more productive. HR's role in such a company is to provide an enabling environment and the practical tools to encourage continuous growth and learning.

While each person must navigate his or her unique career and life journeys, a time-tested, research-proven process with tools can help them plot the course much more effectively in directions they really want to go.

Your Soul at Work outlines our "taking charge" process and contains a step-by-step Career and Life Workbook with the exercises, tools, and checklists we use in our practice.

Copyright 2001 by Nicholas W. Weiler and Stephen C. Schoonover